14x2. The Hand of Fear
Writers: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Director: Lennie Mayne
Script Editor: Robert Holmes
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Synopsis: When the Doctor and
Sarah find themselves in the middle of a detonation site in a quarry,
Sarah accidentally makes contact with the long-buried hand of Eldrad,
an alien from the planet Kastria. Eldrad's consciousness drives Sarah
to undertake a dangerous procedure in a nuclear power plant to
resurrect Eldrad, after which she and the Doctor take Eldrad back to
Kastria. There they discover that Eldrad's story of betrayal by his/her
own people is a lie: Eldrad in fact destroyed the barriers that
protected Kastria from damaging winds in rage over being kept out of
Review: I mentioned in my "Pyramids of Mars" review that perhaps I just
don't instinctively respond to the Holmes/Hinchcliffe stories the way
most Who fans seem to, and I still think that might be the case.
However, recently I've also noticed a specific recurring problem, at
least in my view: generally well-written and entertaining stories
undercut by abrupt and poorly conceived resolutions. "The Hand of Fear"
unfortunately suffers from the same flaw.
Structurally, the script is actually quite creative in how it moves
from one setting to another. For the first half-hour or so, it's an
engaging sci-fi mystery, following along with the Doctor as he tries to
figure out where the hand came from and what's happening to Sarah. It's
an anachronistic comparision, of course, but the scene in which the
Doctor returns to the quarry and ponders the hand's origins reminded me
of The X-Files at its best.
After that, the story shifts to a "crisis control" plot where a series
of emergencies arise at the nuclear power complex, with Sarah, Dr.
Carter, and Driscoll variously under Eldrad's control and the
possibility of a nuclear explosion looming. Finally, the time travelers
return to Kastria where they explore the remnants of Eldrad's society
and learn that he/she was not such an innocent victim after all. All of
this is handled seamlessly, managing to move between what are fairly
loosely connected plot points and different styles of storytelling
without seeming forced or unwieldy.
The story of Eldrad and Kastria is rather thin in some ways: Eldrad
built the barriers, then destroyed them and doomed his people when they
didn't reward him with the power he thought he deserved. But the script
does a reasonable job keeping it interesting. The phrase "Eldrad must
live!" could have easily become an unintentionally campy joke (for
those of you who are Ed Wood enthusiasts, think "Pull the string!"),
but it works as a tagline to indicate when someone is under Eldrad's
control and carries a slightly disturbing quality. Eldrad also earns
some sympathy at first -- the Doctor speculates that perhaps whatever
is causing the situation at the nuclear plant is simply confused and
afraid -- and the beginning scene on Kastria is vague enough that we
can actually believe the female Eldrad's story of betrayal by her own
people. The depth of Eldrad's psychosis is revealed when we get to
Kastria and find that the Kastrians destroyed their own "race banks"
rather than risk Eldrad returning and becoming king of a resurrected
society. The projection of the dead Kastrian King Rokon strikes the
appropriately ironic note, declaring "Hail Eldrad, king . . . of
But then, as Graham Chapman might say, it just gets silly.
It seems like the natural conclusion, at this point in the story, would
be for the Doctor and Sarah to leave Eldrad behind, powerless and alone
on a desolate Kastria, left to ponder his failings and past sins.
Instead, Eldrad starts raving about conquering Earth in order to build
a new empire, demands his ring back, runs around like a lunatic, and
gets tripped by the Doctor and Sarah and falls off a cliff. It's
possible that the Doctor saw Eldrad as an imminent threat given that he
possesses some sort of psychokinetic powers and wasn't exactly
displaying self-restraint, but when coupled with an earlier scene in
which Sarah arguably sets Eldrad up to be ambushed by the armed
Professor Watson before it was even 100% certain that Eldrad was a
villain, the Doctor and Sarah are, as in "The Brain of Morbius,"
portrayed in a more morally ambiguous light than the script likely
intends. (Neither scene, admittedly, is entirely clear on what the
Doctor and/or Sarah are thinking, but that itself is part of the
problem.) On the other hand, the Doctor seems to say later that he
doubts Eldrad is actually dead, so perhaps he simply meant to trap
Eldrad. But in that case, throwing the ring -- a major source of
Eldrad's power -- over the cliff as well seems like a spectacularly bad
idea. Why leave it somewhere that a re-resurrected Eldrad might one day
find it? Either way, this isn't much of an ending, and since Eldrad's
power is determined by writer fiat anyway, they could have found a way
to just leave him trapped on Kastria instead of ending it with a
pointless chase scene like this.
Fortunately, the script finds its footing again with Sarah's departure.
Fed up with what she sees as the Doctor's inattentiveness and the
constant dangers of time travel, she declares that she wants to go
home. But, when it becomes clear that she does actually have to leave
because the Doctor has to return to Gallifrey, her tone changes: she
doesn't actually want her adventures with the Doctor to end, and the
two of them are genuinely sad to part company. "The Hand of Fear"
effectively emphasizes their friendship throughout, from the Doctor's
obvious regret at having to incapacitate her in the nuclear power core
to the later scene in which each of them admits to worrying about the
other. Baker and Sladen play this effectively, and it's easy to believe
that they will, as they say at the end, meet again some day (as,
incidentally, they apparently will on the new series next year). The
script also hits the right note by having the Doctor successfully
return her to near-future England but miss her actual home by a
considerable degree. "He blew it!" Sarah laments to a dog who sits
nearby after the TARDIS demateralizes.
I don't mean to sound too "down" on this era of Doctor Who: it's been more
consistently intelligent and entertaining than the 1960s serials or any
Pertwee season other than his first, but for some reason the writers
don't always seem to be putting much thought into the way they resolve
these stories and the potential ramifications thereof. Hopefully that
will change as we enter the home stretch of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era.
- Professor Watson is given a little more depth than your average Doctor Who guest character. He's
not one of the series' most memorable, but the scene in which he calls
his wife and speaks to her for what he knows might be the last time
(without letting on the danger) and his later bewilderment after the
Doctor, Sarah, and Eldrad have left both work well.
- In the "obvious bogus science" department, unless they were further
from the plant than it appeared, the notion of Watson, Sarah, and the
others ducking behind a car to shield themselves from a nuclear blast
seems kind of ridiculous.
Rating: *** (out of four)
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